THE: Profumo affair has been a personal tragedy for Mr. Macmillan, whose political days are now clearly *numbered. He honourably acquitted himself of the charge of complicity in the squalid conduct of Mr. Profumo and he won the sympathy of the House and of the country for his conduct in a difficult dilemma.
But this did not exonerate him from blame for the dilatoriness and ineptitude, of himself and of others for whom he had the responsibility, in handling this whole affair from the beginning and it is this failure which has, it would seem, made his resignation inevitable.
Since this ineptitude has been characterised as symptomatic of the incapacity of Mr. Macmillan's administration to guide the country's destinies, it is important to remember that it was the reason for his Pyrrhic victory in Monday's vote.
But behind this narrow political issue, a moral stand was, in fact, being taken and its nature has been much obscured. The Prime Minister was not, as has been alleged by some Conservative commentators whose loyalty is more apparent than their logic, made the scapegoat for the indignation of a nation rending itself for its own moral corruption. To compare Mr. Profumo with Parnell or DiIke is to misjudge the whole mood of the nation.
The moral outcry has been caused not by the desire to crucify a sinner or to expiate his crime by finding a scapegoat. It has been caused by a conviction, that the Government's sheer ignorance of what was happening. and of what was almost public knowledge for a long time before the Prime Minister acted, proved its unconcern with moral issues and moral standards.
Some commentators have been trying to prove that the business of Government is confined to administration and has nothing to do with setting or preserving moral standards. In the same way, the public dissatisfaction with the Government and with politicians as a whole has been dismissed as hypocrisy and Puritanism.
To say this is to miss the whole lesson of the Profumo affair, which is that people expect the Government to give a lead in these matters and to maintain standards which people demand in their leaders though many may reject for themselves.
One must accept that at times like these the publicity usually hogged by the vociferous liberal-humanist is largely stolen by the sober citizen, normally dismissed as a fuddyduddy, who is concerned with maintaining what he considers the right standards. But one of the few heartening aspects of the Profumo affair is the evidence it has produced of a substantial core'of ordinary people who do not subscribe to the wholesale overthrow of all forms of authority, standards and personal restraint. For them, authority is not confounded with authoritarianism and freedom does not mean licence.
The moral of the Profumo case is, therefore. that far more people than is generally recognised are disturbed by the way in which objective standards of behaviour are being dismissed as unnecessarily severe and restrictive. They are not content to accept that the Government, the Church and the other authorities have no other function but to reflect changing social ideas. They look to their leaders to halt and reverse a trend which is leading inevitably to moral anarchy.
Lord Hailsham was right in his view that the Profumo case is a national issue. It is. But that does not absolve the Government and the Conservative party from their share of the responsibility for it. It is to the administration of the day that the nation as a whole looks for leadership in moral as well as in political, economic, social and other matters, and the growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Macmillan's Government, as evidenced by opinion polls and by-elections in the past few years. is proof for any but the most obtuse political observer that they feel they have not been getting it. For that failure, to a great extent of his own making, Mr. Macmillan now looks like paying the supreme political penalty.